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The Filmaholic Reviews: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Posted on the 19 December 2015 by Filmaholic Reviews @FilmaholicRvews
The Filmaholic Reviews: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
The Lowdown:Everything a Star Wars movie should be. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the ultimate love letter to Star Wars, reinforcing everything that makes the films so dear to our hearts, all the while breathing new life and vigor into Star Wars. While far from a perfect and original film, The Force Awakens is a refreshing addition to the Star Wars franchise and a great time at the movies.
(WARNING: MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD.)

1. The Plot: The Force Awakens opens with the signature title crawl which reveals that Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has gone missing and General Leia (Carrie Fisher) of the Rebels is on a mission to find him. At the same time, the First Order, a sinister organization not unlike the Galactic Empire, is extending its reach over the galaxy. Led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the First Order is building a superweapon that can destroy entire planets. Hmm…it sounds like the plot from A New Hope (1977).    While all of this is going on, we meet Finn (John Boyega), a Stormtrooper who goes AWOL, and Rey (Daisy Ridley), a young scavenger. Both of them come across a map that allegedly reveals the location of Luke Skywalker, and the find themselves swept up in the fight between the Rebels and the First Order. Will our heroes prevail? Ok, now the plot sounds a lot like the plot from A New Hope (1977).    This is not a huge detriment to the film, but as the film progresses, it becomes clear that the basic storyline is largely an old one in new clothing. Star Wars has always been at its core a classic tale of good versus evil. Light Side versus Dark Side, if you will. The plot is something expected of a Star Wars film; it doesn’t break any new ground. However, the story works because of how it is told. The Force Awakens is an incredibly dynamic film. There is energy in almost every scene, from the pulse-pounding action sequences to the quiet character moments. A liberal dash of humor is also sprinkled throughout the film. The pacing of the film is also excellent. Gone are the days of flat, cheesy dialog or static filmmaking slowing things down (see: Star Wars: Episodes I, II, III).

The Filmaholic Reviews: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

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2. The Characters:    Also gone are the days of wooden and whiny characters in a Star Wars film (again, see: Star Wars: Episodes I, II, III). The Force Awakens assembles a lively cast of fresh faces. John Boyega (Attack the Block) and Daisy Ridley are Finn and Rey, our two main characters. Finn is a Stormtrooper, born and bred to be a soldier for the First Order, but he has a sudden change of heart when forced to take part in a village massacre. He later befriends Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis), a rebel pilot captured by the First Order and the two end up escaping. John Boyega is filled with energy and delivers a solid performance; it is clear that he is having fun in his role. His character of Finn is not terribly complicated, but he is very likable. With two more films being made, he has a lot of room to grow and develop.
The Filmaholic Reviews: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

   Rey fares better in terms of being a more complex character. Daisy Ridley’s performance is also solid, which is great because this is her first major acting role. Her character seems to be more developed than that of Finn. We get a sense of her sad backstory and her hopes and dreams; she is a scavenger on a junkyard planet, having been left there as a child by her parents. She clings to the hope that her parents will come back to her. As the film progresses, Rey goes through the biggest change and has some of the film’s more emotional moments. I foresee a badass female protagonist in future films.
The Filmaholic Reviews: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

   Adam Driver (Inside Llewyn Davis) is Kylo Ren, commander of the First Order. Much like Darth Vader or any other Sith Lord, he wears black robes and a face mask that makes his voice echo in a sinister fashion. It is nice that the film immediately introduces and establishes the villain of the piece, and from the start, Kylo Ren is an appropriately evil guy. Adam Driver’s performance puts a different spin on the classic Star Wars villain. Without spoiling anything, it becomes clear as the film progresses that Kylo Ren is the most interesting and complex character in the film. It will be interesting to see what future installments have in store for him.
The Filmaholic Reviews: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

   Harrison Ford (so many great movies, man he is awesome) reprises his role as Han Solo, the charming rogue we all know and love. Despite his age, Ford completely embodies his character and delivers a great performance that doesn’t feel forced (no pun intended). He forms heartfelt attachments to Rey and Finn, and it is fun to watch them play off each other. The same can be said of Carrie Fisher reprising her role as Leia, although her role is much smaller. Han and Leia do have some amusing and heartfelt exchanges in the film. The reaction of the audience in my screening to the appearance of these characters was that of pure joy and enthusiasm.
The Filmaholic Reviews: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

   I also have to mention the non-human characters. Appearances are made by Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), but they mostly qualify as fan-serving cameos. The newest addition to the line-up is BB-8, an adorable cross between a droid and a soccer ball. Much like R2-D2, BB-8 beeps and blips, but shows a certain level of emotions. BB-8 is cute and lovable, though I bet the toy companies love him the most.
The Filmaholic Reviews: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

3. Less Blue Screen, More Grit:      I mentioned earlier that The Force Awakensis a very dynamic film. This is due in part to the special effects, or rather, the blend of CGI and practical effects. One of the biggest flaws of the prequel trilogy was the overreliance on CGI. So much of the prequel trilogy was shot on a blue screen in a closed set that it left little room for the actors to move around, which hindered their performances. In The Force Awakens, there are scenes set in a desert, in the snow, and in a forest. It helps to give the film a more organic and gritty look. Sure, these scenes could have been done with CGI, but it would run the risk of making the settings look too clean. The human eye can detect fakeness incredibly well, after all. There is also much more room for the actors and cameramen to move around so more dynamic shots can be filmed. This helps especially for action sequences. For example, in Episode II: Attack of the Clones, there is a scene where Anakin and Obi-Wan fight Count Dooku in a hangar bay. The whole fight takes place in one room with flat, static camera angles; it is clear that there was limited room in the closed set, and the blue screen could only extend so far. As a result, it is not a particularly exciting action scene. Compare this to a scene in The Force Awakens where Finn and Rey are running through a desert village from Stormtroopers shooting at them. It is clear that the actors and the sets are real. The camera is also not fixed in one position, but rather following the actors as they weave through all of the gunfire and explosions. It adds grit and tension to the scene and helps give the illusion that the viewer is there with the characters during the action, rather than simply viewing the action from a distance.
The Filmaholic Reviews: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Speaking of grit and tension, lightsaber duels. Lightsabers and Star Wars go together like bread and butter. This being a Star Wars film, there is one major lightsaber duel. However, a combination of dynamic filmmaking and emotional investment in the characters makes the duel much more satisfying. In this duel, there is no fancy choreography where it seems like all of the actors’ movements were rehearsed. The characters fighting each other do not have much training with a lightsaber, so the fighting is noticeably sloppier. However, it fits with the characters. They are also fighting in a forest, and throughout the fight, the camera follows the characters as they weave through the trees. The exciting way in which the scene is filmed coupled with the fact that we care about what happens to these characters increases the tension.
The Filmaholic Reviews: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

5. Paying Homage: The Force Awakens makes a lot of callbacks to previous Star Wars films. Reliance on nostalgic imagery was a detriment to the prequels, but here it is much more balanced. Most of the homages, such as the return of the Millennium Falcon and referencing Han Solo’s “borrowing-and-not-paying-back” habit are done for the sake of humor. Other references seem a bit forced in, such as the scene where Finn accidentally turns on the Dejarik hologram game in the Millennium Falcon. It is amusing, but it is kind of pointless. There is even a cantina scene that features a band of aliens playing instruments much like the Mos Eisley scene in A New Hope. It is when The Force Awakens begins to call back to larger scenes and plot points that it becomes a bit too much to ignore. For instance, there is a scene where Rey is being held captive in Kylo Ren’s lair, so in order to get out, she uses her Jedi mind tricks to fool the Stormtrooper guarding the door, like Obi-Wan did in A New Hope. There is a meeting amongst the Rebel leaders on to how to take down the Totally-Not-Death-Star that mirrors the scene in A New Hope. There’s even an Admiral Ackbar-like character. However, the scene that most walks the fine line between paying homage and ripping off is a climactic scene at the end that is like a cross between the death of Obi-Wan in A New Hope and the “I am your father” scene in Empire Strikes Back. I will not spoil this scene, but while watching it, it was difficult to ignore the similarities. However, these callbacks serve the plot of the film well. By the time we get to scenes like these, we are emotionally invested in the characters, so the payoff of these scenes is well worth it. These scenes don’t simply exploit the goodwill of the audience. They earn their own goodwill.
The Bottom Line: Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a new hope for the franchise. Wonderful characters, snappy dialogue, exciting filmmaking, thrilling action sequences, and even an adorable soccer-ball-shaped robot. The plot lacks originality, but let’s face it, A New Hope is largely Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress (1958) in space. Best of all though, The Force Awakens has heart. May the Force be with you, always.
© Filmaholic Reviews, 2015

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